Interview with Kim Marks (Director of Photography, Second Unit, USA) from The Matrix Reloaded (2003)

By Paul Martin July 24th, 2012, in Official Interviews, The Matrix Reloaded

Archival interview with Kim Marks from the official Matrix website.

MATRIX: How did you become a Second Unit Director of Photography?

KIM: I started working in film in my early twenties on low budget films. I did live action for about six or seven years, then had an opportunity tocome back home to Marin County and work at Industrial Light and Magic [ILM] where I learned visual effects and did many years in still photography. At ILM I was able to shoot and manipulate film in every possible way you can imagine: anywhere from stop motion, where you do one frame every 5 minutes, to shooting 2000 and 3000 frames a second. It was a really great training ground, plus I worked with really incredible people in the visual effects world who have a visual sense that goes beyond any normal person’s ability to analyze an image, like Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, Richard Edlund. I also worked withEric Brevig there and Ed Hirsh. All these people are really talented at analyzing what you see in the world and how to replicate it, either in a miniature or through composits, or a digital animation.

MATRIX: What have been some of your recent projects since ILM?

KIM: I just finished Pearl Harbor, which was an exciting film to work on – we had plenty of action – I was ‘B’ Camera Operator on that. Before that I did a film with Bill Pope, the Director of Photography on this film, called Bedazzled, with Harold Ramis as Director, and before that I worked with David Ellis, the Second Unit Director on this show, on a film called Perfect Storm, where we had a lot of visual effects.

MATRIX: Just how big was Pearl Harbor’s 2nd Unit?

KIM: Actually, Pearl Harbor had more units going. They had an Aerial Unit, they had a Second Unit, they had a First Unit, and they had more, I guess you could say, mechanical things going. There were airplanes and lots of explosions, and we did a lot of that practically, particularly the attack sequences. Of course there was a lot of CG work too, most of the aerial attacks on the ship were plates that David Nowell shot, then they added airplanes to them. Some them were entirely CG shots, which they did an incredible job on – Eric Brevig and Ed Hirsh did an incredible job of putting those together, they are really, really talented people.

MATRIX: Because of your background in visual effects, have you done any First Unit DoP work in that area?

KIM: I haven’t so far, although I’ve done a fair amount of Second Unit. This is sort of a specialty area where you do a lot of live action (which I’ve done), a lot of live action Camera Operating, and live action Second Unit work mixed with a lot of visual effects. I was, I feel, lucky that Bill Pope gave me the opportunity to do this, because it was the perfect blend for me: a lot of visual effects with a lot of action footage also. I was Second Unit Director of Photography on The River Wild and The Mask of Zorro, and those were both big action films.

MATRIX: What does your average day on THE MATRIX sequels entail?

KIM: The Second Unit is what you could describe as the clean up crew for First Unit. We end up doing a lot of additional coverage on scenes after they have done the scenes with the actors. It sometimes involves doing stunts that First Unit turns over to us because they are either time consuming or they take a lot of rigging, insert shots and, on this film, a lot of visual effects shots with blue screens and plate shots [backgrounds].

MATRIX: Have there been any particularly challenging things you have accomplished on this film?

KIM: Trying to keep the look consistent is always the biggest challenge – trying to keep the angles, the lighting etc. all the same so it matches the First Unit. That’s always the challenge of the Second Unit, making decisions about frame rates: are we shooting the correct frame rates? Are we shooting the correct framing? All those things are hard to do so we try, without taking a lot of time, to shoot as many variations as we can. The least challenging thing, of course, is working with my [Second Unit] Director friend, David Ellis. There is a man who is easy to get along with, talented and creative… I feel like I’m doing an ad.

MATRIX: How much communication do you have with the First Unit; do you see the footage where you’re fitting in the insert shots?

KIM: Not always. We’ve moved at a pretty rapid pace on this film, so Zach [Staenberg], the Editor, doesn’t always have a chance to keep up with the cutting that has to be done so we know exactly where an insert or a shot goes in. A lot of that we do according to storyboards, or pursuant to discussions with the Directors.

MATRIX: Are the storyboards the main graphic element to help create your shots?

KIM: We also have what we call pre-vizes [pre-visualizations], which are actual animation clips showing what the action would be. They’re helpful because they’re a point of departure for everybody, you can always look at them and say we want it like this, or tighter than this, or we want it faster than this. I think they’re always helpful when you’re trying to get information from the First Unit people – a picture is worth a thousand words.

MATRIX: So, essentially you’re creating the pre-visualization in live action?

KIM: On this film that’s been pretty much it, but some of those things are not possible, sometimes those pre-viz guys put a camera passing through someone’s head physically – a place you could not get a camera – cheating things we just can’t do. Sometimes they think we have a camera that’s this big [an inch or two] that we can put places.

MATRIX: Is that where visual effects might come in?

KIM: No, you make your best choice and you do it – you say this is an entrance shot, we’re going to do it this way instead. The brothers have pretty much gone through the pre-vizes with a fine-tooth comb perfecting them, so we try to replicate the pre-vizes as much as possible.

MATRIX: When the Second Unit footage is shown at the dailies, is that the time you communicate with the Directors about what they liked and what they didn’t like?

KIM: Exactly, we call it the ‘screaming room’. We go into the screening room and we have discussions about each shot. The Wachowskis have always been really good about passing on information and not getting too emotional about things. That’s what we need – information – and then we go out and execute.

MATRIX: Where has Second Unit spent the bulk of their time shooting?

KIM: Mainly on the freeway. Like I said, clean up action sequences, additional motorcycle coverage, car coverage, crashes, and then a huge number of plates for the knife fight and the truck top fight, which kept us occupied.

MATRIX: When something has been shot on film and Second Unit is doing blue screen coverage, how do you ensure the actor is in the exact same place on the bike etc?

KIM: That’s done by taking a huge number of measurements, and we also use video line up. We have the background plate, and we can place the blue screen element over that and match horizons. Whenever we could, when we were on the freeway, we shot a reference of someone in there so we had an idea of their size and their angle and direction… through a lot of measurements basically. Then we shot what we call circle vision plates which take an angle of you that’s three times wider or so than the angle we’ll need, and they can move that around and help it match.

MATRIX: A lot of the camera work was done on motor bikes, how were you, as the DoP, involved with that?

KIM: My job in that is basically trying to figure out how we’re going to mount the camera – where it’s going to go. Do we want it mounted to the bike? Do we want it to be on a bike where the horizon is going to tilt with it? In that case we had a single bike. Or do we want to keep the horizon flat and have the bike tilt within that? We have different tools for each one of those. We had a single bike that Danny Wynands [Utility Stunt] drove, he did a great job, and we could put the camera really low and go as fast as you would ever want to go on a motorcycle. Then for other shots, where we wanted to pan and tilt more, we had Steve Holladay’s [Utility Stunt] side hack bike, which is basically a three wheeled motorcycle. Steve would drive that, we would put the camera with an operator in the side car of that bike and chase the action. Steve St. John was the Camera Operator on that. It was amazing, you can get different looks from each of them, all exciting in their own way.

MATRIX: Thanks Kim.

Interview by REDPILL

June 2001

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